Speaking Opportunities Abound
My book on coping with progressive vision loss has opened the way for me to educate others on the value of cane training and to live optimistically with an incurable disease (s). As a deaf blind woman, my life is in a constant flux of adapting and trying to get the most out of each day in spite of my limitations.
At 28, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare hereditary eye disease that has slowly progressed over the last twenty-five years. In 2009, it reached a critical point of loss. I was at a crossroads and had to choose the best way to move forward and enjoy the rest of my life. You can find more about my story here: Mobility Matters: Speaking Out in Faith
That same year, I learned I had Type 3 Usher’s Syndrome, which meant progressive hearing loss, that typically ends in deafness. The Usher’s also affects one’s balance, which, because of my vision loss isn’t that great to begin with.
It was scary to think of living with a dual disability.
I’ve faced quite a few obstacles since I’ve transitioned from my teaching career to become a writer and public speaker. I’m still educating but going down a different road. On this road, I’m not teaching English or Spanish as a foreign language and introducing my students to a new geographical culture. Now I’m sharing the language of how to live joyously within boundaries one has no control over. The cultures I’m teaching are ones I’m simultaneously learning-what it’s like to live with one step in blind and deaf communities and one step out.
I’m speaking! I started out with some radio interviews and a few opportunities to speak here and there. Inside myself, whenever I speak, my heart flutters. Will I hear any questions asked? Will I stumble over my words? Can I remember my main points? Will I stumble over any obstacles? Will I connect with my listeners? How can I best both educate and encourage them?
Sometimes I ask God, “how come you put me in this position to continue to educate when I have such difficulty hearing?” Not hearing makes me feel a little panicked. But just the other day I was reminded that God never asks us to do anything He hasn’t equipped us to do. So, in faith, and lots of excitement, I’m walking through those doors that seem to be flying open.
In one of my last speaking engagements, a man in a wheelchair spoke out, “It’s all good if you are talking to people who already believe in God.But how do you convince people who don’t believe in God? ‘Cuz there are a lot of people who are blind or whatever who don’t want nothin’ to do with ‘that faith stuff.'”
I thought for a minute. I don’t weed my faith out of my presentations. I said, “I leave that to them. They can take away from my talk whatever they want to. I share my faith and focus on the positive and doing what we can do make our lives the best for us and those around us.”
But his question stayed with me because when I speak to the general public, I want to leave them with hope and if they reject faith, which is where I siphon my deepest hope, I have to provide something they can latch onto. After thinking about it, I chose to keep sharing my story of faith, gratitude and share practical application of tips that I’ve learned to follow with my vision and hearing loss. My best bet is to continue to ask God to guide me in my speaking. Being honest and authentic is essential.
Overcoming obstacles and adapting are two threads that wind through all my talks.
For example, last week, I discovered my left eye is like 20/400. That means I can’t see even the super-size letter N on the chart clearly. It was discouraging. Cataracts are a side-effect of my eye disease and apparently, I had another one. I had a lens implant in that eye in 1999. Apparently, the lens has slipped or become dislodged due to some fall or trauma (bumping into a wall or a door or a cement column, perhaps!). I took a deep breath and asked about my right eye.
“That’s not so bad,” the doc said, “with glasses, we can make your vision a little bit better.”
I chose to celebrate the better vision of my right eye instead of focusing on the loss of my left one.
Speaking opportunities are coming in fast now. I’m thrilled to accept the challenges that God has put before me. Tomorrow evening, I get to speak to a group of senior citizens who have enrolled in a class called “Awakening My Senses.” The director of the program assured me that my vision loss journey fits perfectly in the theme. So I’m super-excited to share my story. I’ll take out my suitcase and unpack some of the essential “tools” that I use to combat the obstacles. I think we’ll all have a lot of fun.
The next morning, I will speak to a group of 18-20 vision-impaired individuals going through rehab and a couple of trainers. This is a group under the auspices of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. The emphasis will be on the practical, accepting vision loss and adapting.
I will be offering hope. Exposing and deposing fears–letting people see how cane training has made me bolder and more independent rather than less. I intend to answer their questions honestly. Sometimes I wish I could present with others to share more ideas. During my book launch, I had a completely blind friend there and his answers combined well with mine. His sense of humor and honesty added to the depth of our dialogue. It was a great experience. Another time, I presented with another vision-impaired friend and that, too, was a positive experience.
Each group I speak to is different, just like each of my classes were always different. Connecting is always exciting.
I am so grateful to all of you readers who encourage me along my journey, whatever path you walk. Whatever your interests are, I’m glad you include me for a few minutes of your day.
I believe that we are constantly meant to become learners of new languages, and foreign languages can be found in our own society as we reach out to those with different subcultures.
What are you doing that you’re both fearful and yet passionate about? What would you like to be doing? What holds you back from doing it?
You’ve just read “Low Vision Speaking Opportunities Overflow,” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright March 23, 2015. Please LIKE, COMMENT and SHARE this post if you enjoyed it.